Question:

I take care of an elderly person. In front of me is a “commode” used for toileting if need be by the bedside. The “commode” is clean. There is no urine or poop in or around the commode. A Graf SHEL REI. Can someone pray or learn in front of a clean commode?

Answer:

My understanding of the type of commode that you are referring to is that it has a seat with a hole in it, and the refuse drops through hole into a bowl, which detaches from the seat part and is emptied, cleaned and put back.  Regarding davening or learning in front of such a commode, we have to differentiate between the chair part of the commode, which although it is used while the elderly person relieving himself, however it doesn’t actually touch the urine, etc. itself. Even if it occasionally does, it isn’t meant to, and if it is clean it isn’t considered a graf shel rei.

Regarding the bowl underneath the commode, that is controversial if it is considered a graf shel rei or not. Some authorities say that since it looks like a graf shel rei, we may not daven etc. in front of it even if it is clean and doesn’t smell. Others say that when it is clean and doesn’t smell it isn’t a graf shel rei and davening in front of it is permitted. Therefore it is definitely preferred to cover the bowl, before davening or learning in front of it.

Sources:

O”CH 87-1, M”B ibid that any graf shei rei of metal, (and plastic, see Igros Moshe O”Ch 1-27, Chelkas Yackov 2-163, Nishmas Avrohom O”CH 8-1 that quotes R’ S.Z. Auerbach zt”l, say that plastic also doesn’t absorb much and therefore when it is clean it isn’t a graf shel rei) is fine when it is clean. See Pri Megadim O”CH E”A 76-1 that if the vessel look like a potty it is not permitted even if it is clean, however this is not brought in the mishnah Berura. Shut Eretz Tzvi 1-111, Eishei Yisroel 53-37.

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